A listening post monitoring public education and teachers’ unions.

The Real Effect of Teachers’ Union Contracts

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Oct• 25•10

Today’s The Answer Sheet features a column by Matthew Di Carlo of the Shanker Institute wherein he compares the NAEP math and reading scores of states “with binding teacher contracts” to states without. He finds the contract states to have scores an average of 2.65 points higher.

He concludes this way:

If anything, it seems that the presence of teacher contracts in a state has a positive effect on achievement.

Now, some may object to this conclusion. They might argue that I can’t possibly say that teacher contracts alone caused the higher scores in these states. They might say that there are dozens of other observed and unobserved factors that influence achievement, such as state laws, lack of resources, income, parents’ education, and curriculum, and that these factors are responsible for the lower scores in the 10 non-contract states.

My response: Exactly.

Di Carlo isn’t comfortable claiming flat out that collective bargaining increases student test scores, but emphasizes that the opposite argument - the absence of teacher contracts would benefit test scores - lacks evidence. In his follow-up blog post, Di Carlo delves deeper into the numbers, and finds:

Finally, in all four models, the association between scores and whether or not states have binding contracts is not statistically significant at any conventional level (even at the 90% confidence level). So, while this analysis is far from conclusive, I certainly find no evidence that teacher union contracts are the among the biggest reasons why achievement is low, as Davis Guggenheim and countless others imply (see here and here for more thorough analyses, which actually show small positive benefits of unions).

It’s going to be difficult for some to resist the temptation to argue about what effect, if any, teacher contracts have on student test scores from state to state, but it entirely misses the salient point that the purpose of teacher contracts is not, and never has been, to increase student test scores. In states with collective bargaining, contracts define the salaries, benefits and working conditions of public education employees. Since compensation accounts for upwards of 80% of all public school expenditures, we might learn something about the “real effect of teachers’ union contracts” if we compare per-pupil spending in states with binding teacher contracts to states without. Here, I use U.S. Census Bureau figures for 2007-08:

Average per-pupil spending in AL, AR, AZ, GA, LA, MS, NC, SC, TX, and VA - $8,904

Average per-pupil spending in the other 40 states and DC - $10,745

Stating there is no significant difference between bargaining and non-bargaining states when it comes to student achievement is not a winning argument for unions. We pay a 20.7% premium to have unions. Isn’t the onus on them to demonstrate their worth to students, parents and taxpayers?


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  1. Tweets that mention The Real Effect of Teachers’ Union Contracts | Intercepts -- says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by RiShawn Biddle, Jason E. Glass. Jason E. Glass said: Interesting reads on a couple of your tweets - thanks! @21stprincipal Re: and […]

  2. […] October 25, 2010 tags: collective bargaining by Fred Klonsky Union hater Mike Antonucci claims that since states with collective bargaining laws pay their teachers more than right-to-work […]

  3. Jane S says:

    Yes, the states with higher student achievement do pay a high premium to get it. The higher expenditure is what brings about that achievement. And it is binding contracts that bring about that higher expenditure. Experience has shown us that collective bargaining for teachers and ESPs is the engine which generates higher spending.
    The higher employee compensation and the more favorable student-teacher ratios which are at the base of those spending levels allows high-spending public school systems to select the best-educated and most proficient teachers as well as the most highly-qualified ESPs. Surely these experts are not suggesting that teacher expertise and knowledge and competent support staff have no relationship to student achievement.
    The rest of what those high expenditures buy is educational resources like Promethean boards, computers and textbooks. Ask any parents if they want their children to do without those things.
    The notion that money doesn’t matter is a canard promoted by those who don’t like to tax the richest among us for the support of the schools. The burden is on them to prove that collective bargaining and the money it generates does no good — not the other way around.

  4. Gary says:

    So, let me get this straight – this guy argues that you can’t credit unions with higher achievement without controlling for state differences like income. You respond by arguing that you CAN blame unions for every penny of higher spending without controlling for state differences like, say, the cost of living.

    I disagree with this guy, but at least he did his homework.

  5. Jim Stegall says:

    Jane S. is obviously wrong when she writes, regarding higher student achievement, that “The higher expenditure (secured by collective bargaining) is what brings about that achievement.” Anyone who knows anything about education knwos that the non-collective bargaining states where student achievement is lower have ALWAYS had problems with student achievement, long before there was anything called collective bargaining-anywhere. States like North Carolina, hampered by a long history of poverty and a culture that historically has devalued public education, have made enormous progress and now compete academically on a nearly even footing with states in New England and the midwest without resorting to collective bargaining.

  6. Ed is Watching » Figuring Out the Union Cost Premium and Our Priorities for Public Education says:

    […] Intelligence Agency put forward an interesting twist to the question on his Intercepts blog. The real effect of teachers’ union contracts, he says, is the 20.7% cost premium for states (including Colorado) with collective bargaining. To […]